Messi not named amongst the top three of FIFA’s Best: Harsh or Justified?


The football world was left shocked, surprised on 4th September, 2018. FIFA announced the top three candidates for the ‘Best player’ award. Even if one has a relationship with football similar to that of what most people have with their second cousins, they’d know that Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are almost always certain to be in the top three. And this is exactly what shook the world. The mercurial Messi, for the first time since 2006, was not in the top three for the World’s Best player. Instead, there were Luka Modric and Liverpool’s Egyptian King Mohamed Salah who filled up the trinity with Ronaldo. But why wasn’t Messi in the top three?

Let’s not jump into the bandwagon of ‘Messi is so good, he should be in the top three always’. Capabilities as a footballer shouldn’t be a measure to judge a player’s yearly achievements. But Messi was exceptional throughout the year. As of now, he’s the top scorer of 2018 among all the other footballers with 35 goals. Ronaldo comes narrowly second with 34. Salah has 28, Modric has 2; which is understandable since the latter is rather an orchestrator than a goalscorer like the other three. What makes Messi look even more incredible is that he has 18 assists throughout the year. Modric and Salah combined has 18 assists. Ronaldo, not much known as an assist provider, has 7. Messi has won the European Golden Boot, he also won the league. He also won the Spanish Supercup. Agreed, he had a torrid World Cup but let’s not forget, Ronaldo had one too back in 2014. Not only did he crack the top three that year, he also won the Ballon D’or. So, why wasn’t Messi picked?

To make the case even more solid on Messi’s side, he had an absolutely incredible 2017-18 season. Messi was literally in a league of his own. He not only was the top scorer (34) and assist provider (12), he also led the charts for most chances created (87), most take ons completed (185), Most chances created via through balls (11), most goals from outside the box (8), most freekick goals (6). Ronaldo may have joined Juventus this season but he did play 17-18 in the same league as Messi, La Liga. This is a literal meaning. But metaphorically, Ronaldo didn’t come close to Messi. Because the Barcelona captain was playing in a league of his own.

The decision to not name Messi in UEFA’s Best player in Europe, handed on the same day as the group stage draw for the 2018-19 season, was still justified. Messi had scored only six goals throughout the campaign, was almost invisible in the knockout rounds. And most importantly, failed to rise up to the occasion when Roma absolutely shocked the world with one of the greatest comebacks in Champions League history.

The award ‘FIFA’s Best’ suggests it’d be given to the best performer throughout the year. Someone who has been extremely consistent, efficient and has dragged his teams out of danger many times alone with his mercurial brilliance. Messi is exactly that kind of a player. Barcelona’s La Liga and Copa Del Rey triumph last season was largely due to his astonishing abilities. But still, he wasn’t named in the top three. Fans almost broke the internet with their huge rants, stats posting and what not. And who could truly blame them? Messi not getting the nod ahead of Salah at least, calls for an explanation.

People who are siding with FIFA on not picking Messi as one of the top three candidates, says he was magnificent alright; but failed to deliver when his team needed him the most. Which is true to some extent. Messi was nowhere to be seen when Roma staged an unbelievable comeback against the Catalans. Messi was the main reason of Argentina being in the World Cup. But in the finals, he disappeared again. Messi missed an absolutely expensive penalty against Iceland which would’ve made for much easier access to the round of 16. He did score against Nigeria in a direct knockout match, but that was that. Messi once again failed to be the main man when France eliminated Argentina in the round of 16 of the FIFA World Cup. Rising up to the occasion when your team needs you the most is what defines a player’s iconic status or legacy. Messi has done it numerous times for Barcelona and Argentina. But this year, he failed to do so for both of them.

Whatever the results or accolades may say, Messi had a brilliant individual 2018. In terms of team achievements, he lacked to match his extremely high levels. Otherwise, why would a year where a player won the League and the cup, became Europe’s top goalscorer be counted as something of a failure? To put into words, Messi simply has become a victim of his own greatness. People seem to always expect him to win the treble, become top goalscorer and what not. What’s more astonishing is that Leo’s been managing to tick most of these boxes season in, season out.

To put things into perspective, Salah was Premier League’s top goalscorer. He had an unbelievable 2017-18 and also 2018 as a year. But he didn’t manage to win any trophies for Liverpool. He failed to take Egypt to the round of 16 of the World Cup, despite scoring two goals. But if Salah can make it to the top three; scoring lesser goals, winning lesser trophies, having lesser stats in literally every sector of the field, why can’t Messi? If Ronaldo can win the Ballon D’or on the basis of just club performances back in 2014 after a forgettable world cup, why can’t Messi? Sadly, these are the questions that lack proper answers from FIFA, the main organization in context now. But one thing is for sure, the decision to omit Messi from the top three where he had better stats, accolades than at least one competitor was extremely harsh from FIFA.